Holden: The have a go heroes of the land down under
Now a rebadging exercise, its home plant may be gone, but never be forgotten, it will always be a great Statesman.
The models Holden made could just as easily describe it as a company. Flying the flag, being the backbone of a new nation, whilst being the renegade the enthusiasts longed for. Now, if you’re an Aussie that bleeds blue, you will have been more upset to see the Ford plant close its doors, but the end of legacies is hard all around. To have a rivalry, and support a passion, you need someone on the other side, no one wants to see their opponent die. Watching them lose at Bathurst? Yes. Disappear? Not on your nelly.
Such is the cultural relevance of both brands that its impossible to write an obituary to one once great factory without giving an honourable mention to the other.
Something becomes instilled in the culture of a nation when every dignified gentleman rides a Fairlane or a Stateman, and families roll around for generations in their Falcon or Commodore.
When car production in Australia finally ground to a halt, a pause should have been taken. A question banded around the world should have been answered, are we really happier with the direction globalisation is taking us in the automotive world. Efficiencies taking jobs away from home to increase profit margins. Some will say Holden and Ford had been on borrowed time in Australia. Others will mourn their passing, whilst unlocking their Toyota. The fact is, we as consumers make the choice. Amazon didn’t single handedly strip your high street of shops, you just stopped going out and started clicking. A single man gained a greater wealth than some countries, whilst the people you talked to on a daily basis lost their job. Human behaviour is complex, money is simple.
Holden is just another victim of consumer demand. When the punters stop supporting it, opting for the more reliable Japanese motor, or buying into European badges, time became limited for the home grown.
Now enthusiasts are generally more loyal, then again many enthusiasts would miss a holiday, and a new kitchen to put something special on their driveway. Sadly, enthusiasts wont keep a company alive on their own. The public moved on so why should this article even be bothered with.
Simple, they made some firecrackers.
Only in Australia would you find a mainstream manufacturer willing to agree that a ute (a pickup truck based on a coupe to the rest of the world) needs to have a honking great V8, that with an empty bed, would send you into a spin faster than a Latin dance festival.
Then there is the Monaro (rebadged in America as the Pontiac GTO). Never have I experienced a vehicle, with the possible exception of the Mercedes C63 AMG, that could put such a smile on your face whilst presenting the challenge of control on par with putting stockings on a horse with mustard up its bottom.
Madness wasn’t all they mastered, there was something smooth about the grown up Holden models that were identifiable even when up against the best in class. A drive of an old Statesman in a Sydney suburb left me feeling like I was on my way to open up a new quarry in the 70’s. I could have just as easily been about to drive to Canberra and lobby for tax breaks for small business owners. Mercedes spend millions chiselling the feeling of a titan of industry on their way to make an important decision into the S-Class. The Statesman is much more down to earth, business was really done by the people that drove these, rather than just giving the impression. That’s why you will see a precession of S-Class’ at a meeting of world leaders, but it was the Statesman that used to be parked in the corner of a small Aussie company on an industrial estate.
Back in 2014 on a long drive between Sydney and Newcastle, I got behind the wheel of a VF Commodore Evoke, the base model, equipped with a 3.0 V6. It was plenty. I would rather have taken a V8, but the 3.0 taught me more about the car. It chomped up the miles with the ease of a BMW 5-Series. Away from a car that’s selling point was it’s engine I realised how well put together it was, if someone had blind folded me and told me it was an Audi I wouldn’t have put up a strong argument. Whether they will age as well, is another matter, then again the VF Commodore was noticeably cheaper. The most important aspect, as with any car, was the feeling it gave me. Cruising along, far away from the big city, you see the other 99% of the land down under, sparse and open. I could have been crushing the west coast of America if the water was on the other side. Not once did I stop, a big tank, comfortable seat and supple ride, why would I need to. The end of my journey was even better, getting out as fresh as I had stepped in, an older Aussie couple were waiting for me on the balcony of their hotel. It was 11.20pm, and I was the last on their list of overnighters. On arrival, both came down to their carpark. The first thing they made sure of was expected, “Are you the Pom we’ve been staying up waiting for?” An ear to ear smile on the older gentleman, reminding me that the Aussies love to give the English a ribbing, but all in good fun. After my profuse apology for being two hours late the subject immediately turned to the shiny new Holden with only a few hundred kilometres under its wheels. “Is this the new Commodore? Can I have a sit in her?” Their’s was in the corner of the carpark, very much looking the great grandfather of the one I had arrived in. Half an hour passed of back and forth about the car, they loved it, sadly business wasn’t quite hot enough for them to trade in the old timer in the corner, but next years bookings were looking strong. Some cars bond people in this way, very few cars bond nations though. Holden lived, and died an Aussie icon, their rebadged GM and Opel cars will keep the badge alive, but in name only. It's not quite the insult to our eyes that Lancia has become, but a real shame nonetheless. I hope the old couple managed to bag a new Commodore before the factory expired. They had lived their lives in an Australia where the Aussie battler took on the odds of the red dirt, made a success of it and reaped the rewards. If anything I hope that unlike Holden, that spirit never leaves Australia. The bloodlines of the cars may be severed, but the soul lives on. We’ll hold up a schooner to their memories tonight.